ECHR upholds Belgium law requiring stunning before animal slaughter News
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ECHR upholds Belgium law requiring stunning before animal slaughter

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Tuesday upheld the legality of Belgium’s Flemish and Walloon decrees which requires that all animals slaughtered for human consumption must be killed only after using proper stunning procedures to limit animal suffering and promote humane slaughtering practices.

The law was previously upheld by the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court. The decision of the ECHR follows a legal challenge presented by several Belgian nationals and organizations representing Muslim and Jewish communities. They argued that Flemish and Walloon rules prohibiting the slaughter of conscious animals by religious rite violated their freedom of religion, namely their Articles 9 and 14 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 9 protects the freedom of thought, conscience and religion while Article 14 protects against discrimination.

In the ruling, the ECHR found that while there had been interference with the applicants’ Article 9 freedom of religion rights which was prescribed the legislation, the proscription was part of a procedure to protect a legitimate aim. The court expanded the definition of the ‘protection of public morals’, which is a permitted limitation under the Convention, to include the protection of human dignity in the sphere of interpersonal relations and the living environment of individuals covered by its protection and in particular to animals. The ECHR found that “the Convention could not be interpreted as promoting the absolute upholding of the rights and freedoms it enshrined without regard to animal suffering.”

The court also found that the interference was necessary in a democratic society since “both decrees were based on a scientific consensus that prior stunning was the optimum means of reducing the animal’s suffering at the time of slaughter.” The court added that the parliaments of the Flemish and Walloon region concluded that there was no less radical measure which could sufficiently achieve the objective of reducing the harm to animal welfare during slaughtering.

The ECHR also added that these bans did not constitute a prohibition of restricting Flemish and Walloon Jews and Muslims from accessing kosher and halal meats as “the Flemish and Walloon Regions did not prohibit the consumption of meat from other regions or countries in which stunning prior to the killing of the animals was not a legal requirement.”

The court ruled that the applicants’ Article 14 rights against discrimination was not breached as the applicants were not in a comparable situation and context to hunters and fishermen.

This is the first time the ECHR has opined on the matter. The ruling appears to open the door to further animal rights protection legislation which is related to the rights to religious freedoms in the EU.